From "Uncle Jeff" to "Coach": Brady and Jeff Walz Are Savoring Their Time Together on Louisville’s Staff
Brady has done it all for the Cardinals this season as a manager and practice player
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At some practices, Louisville women’s basketball head coach Jeff Walz wants to disown his nephew.
The nephew in question, Brady Walz, is a sophomore manager and practice player for the Cardinals who, by his own admission, isn’t exactly a sharpshooter. During a practice at Notre Dame last season, Brady didn’t make a single shot in a five-minute 3-point shooting drill—and Jeff was quick to blame exactly half of Brady’s genetics. “Every time I would shoot it, he would go, ‘That's the Desmond in ya!’ yelling halfway across the gym,” Brady told Her Hoop Stats. “That was funny.”
Jeff confirmed that this was not an isolated incident: “I'll give him a hard time … if he plays bad. I'll be like, ‘That's your mother's side [of the family]. That is not the Walz side because that's an embarrassment.’”
The Walzes are a close-knit, basketball-centric family—along with Jeff, Brady’s aunt Jaime is a high school coach and his father Brian is a former coach. And although Jeff was often traveling with Louisville and USA Basketball during Brady’s childhood, Brady has been a staunch Cardinals fan since Jeff took the job in 2007.
“I can remember going to games when we still played at Freedom Hall,” Brady said, referencing the arena that the Cardinals called home until 2010. “… I went to every game that I was able to go to, and then if they were on TV and I wasn't able to go, I would watch.”
Brady got his first inside look at Jeff’s program six years ago, in what otherwise would have been his freshman year of high school. He was battling Pre-B acute lymphoid leukemia and missed a year of school, and he traveled with the team during the NCAA Tournament. “That was not a great time for me going through all that,” Brady said, “but looking forward each weekend to going somewhere different with them was a relief and a big help.”
Brady didn’t play high school basketball after his cancer battle, but he was a team manager for one season, which helped him get the job at Louisville. He had wanted to attend Louisville since Jeff arrived and decided to try to become a manager as a way to help pay for his degree—and be near family.
“One of the reasons I did do this was to be able to get to see [Jeff] more and build a stronger relationship with him,” Brady said.
Jeff routed Brady through the same process as every other candidate, which involves an interview with Adrienne Johnson, the team’s executive director for player relations. Jeff made it clear to Johnson that she didn’t have to hire Brady—and that was exactly how Brady wanted it. “I didn't want any special treatment,” he said.
Brady still got the job, and Jeff said that it was a “seamless” adjustment having him join the program. It surely helps that, while teams frequently refer to themselves as “families,” Louisville has a uniquely strong family environment. In non-pandemic seasons, Jeff and his staff’s children are fixtures at practices, and just last month, Brady and others in the program went sledding with some of the assistant coaches’ children after a snowstorm.
“It's a family, so we don't shy away from the fact that Brady's my nephew,” Jeff said.
However, Brady recalled one early bump in the road as he got used to having his uncle as his boss. “It was funny: There was one time last year that I had to get him [because] someone needed him,” Brady said. “I called him Uncle Jeff and … it was just the look I got after that, just like, Oh, I can't call you that here.” (Brady now calls Jeff “Coach” in the team setting, just like the players do.)
Jeff said that Brady gets along well with the players and can often be found rebounding for them. He even talks some trash at practice—“which I think is great,” Jeff added. But Brady has earned the respect of the players and the rest of the staff primarily because of his work ethic. “I think that's one thing that everybody on my staff would tell you is he's going to try to go above and beyond and make sure things are done right and done well,” Jeff said.
That work ethic comes as no surprise to Jeff, who said that Brady has always been willing to pitch in if Jeff or his wife Lauren need assistance around the house. In addition, during Brady’s cancer treatment, he got to make a wish through the Make-A-Wish Foundation and had a highly unusual request.
“Most kids are wanting a neat trip with their family,” Jeff explained. “Well, Brady's wanting a lawn mower, a weed eater, a [leaf] blower, and a trailer to carry it with, and he got it. So … he’s always been a hard worker.”
Brady used the equipment to launch his own grass-cutting business, which he continued all through high school. Perhaps there is a genetic component to that, too: Jaime told KySportsStyle.com Magazine in 2018 that she spent “a lot of hours” helping Jeff with his own grass-cutting business when they were younger.
In some ways, cutting grass is not that different from managing: Both jobs involve making their work sites more orderly and preparing them for their boss to use, whether for coaching a basketball practice or sitting on the lawn with a glass of lemonade. But Brady and his fellow manager, Jake Vincent, have had tougher jobs than ever this season due to COVID-19. According to Brady, they arrive 60 to 90 minutes before practice to clean the practice floor and set up, and after practice, about an hour of laundry and 30 to 40 minutes of disinfecting await them. That includes spraying down basketballs, spraying down the locker room, and cleaning the backboards. Travel is more complicated than ever and requires packing additional supplies, and both managers get tested for COVID-19 regularly, just like all of the players.
Brady and Jake have also practiced with the team this season, as the NCAA announced in September that managers could serve as practice players as a way to minimize the number of people in the gym during the pandemic. “It's a lot better than sitting on the side with a towel around my neck,” Brady said—even if it means facing a team that held the No. 1 ranking for three weeks this season.
When Jeff wants to work on the team’s offense, Brady often guards two-time ACC Player of the Year Dana Evans or Nigerian national team player Elizabeth Balogun. “She’s about four steps quicker than I am,” Brady said of Evans, “… but it’s a lot of fun.”
On the other side of the ball, Brady typically runs the point for the scout team, making him a target if Louisville wants to practice its press. Jeff deadpanned that Brady’s best skill as a practice player is that “he turns the ball over well. He really gives us confidence on our team defense.”
More seriously, Jeff added, “When it comes to being a practice guy, I enjoy the fact he's got a lot of personality. He has fun with it. At times he's willing to make fun of himself. … I tell our [players] all the time, if you can't laugh at yourself, who can you laugh at? And then life's awfully tough if you can't learn to laugh and smile some. … He really enjoys what he does, and it shows.”
Brady has found that his relationship with Jeff has gotten stronger since he joined the Louisville program, just as he had hoped coming out of high school. “It's just genuine working with him,” Brady said. “… It’s the truth all the time. There's no BS.” Brady admires how much Jeff cares for his players and wants to help them succeed at Louisville and beyond. And although Brady traveled with the team before becoming a manager, he did identify one aspect of Jeff’s coaching that surprised him as a manager.
“The level of how serious he is and then how much he just wants to win was really eye-opening to me,” Brady said.
It’s clearly worked, as Jeff is approaching 400 wins at Louisville and has won 78% of his games with the Cardinals. The past two seasons with Brady on staff have been even better: 51 wins (and counting) against just seven losses, for a winning percentage of 88%.
Earlier this season, Jeff and Brady made basketball even more of a family affair with a New Year’s Day game against Northern Kentucky, which also happens to be Jeff’s alma mater. Brady’s sister Meghan is a freshman at NKU and works in the women’s basketball office, and even though the game was only scheduled the day before, Brady and Meghan’s parents were able to make the 90-minute drive from Fort Thomas, Kentucky, to Louisville for the occasion.
In between his many responsibilities with the Cardinals, Brady is a sports administration major at Louisville. He is leaning toward becoming a college coach, either in the men’s or the women’s game, after he graduates, but his role as a manager will also expose him to other potential careers in sports. Whatever he decides, he is seemingly set up for success—not because he has an elite coach for an uncle, but because of his own relentless work ethic and positivity.
“It's pretty remarkable what he’s been through … but he never complains about a thing,” Jeff said of Brady, specifically mentioning the chemotherapy that forced him to miss a year of school. “… I've always been very impressed with him, with how he’s handled everything and his approach to life.”
Though Jeff isn’t always as enamored with Brady’s basketball skills, Brady has his moments, just like any player. Those moments don’t come in front of sellout crowds or down the stretch of big games, but they still come in front of an audience Brady cares about: Jeff.
Asked about a favorite memory from his time as a Louisville manager, Brady said, “If ever I happen to make a good play in practice, he always hypes me up for it. I appreciate that and I enjoy that.”